A crisis is looming in fleet management. Put simply, there aren’t enough drivers to meet demand in the road freight industry.
IBISWorld figures show that the Australian road freight industry is growing at 3 per cent a year, while the Centre for Automotive Safety Research predicts the number of freight tasks scheduled in 2005 will have doubled by 2030.
At the same time, the available driver pool is shrinking as older truckies retire because nobody is coming through to replace them. A Clemenger BBDO survey, commissioned by Volvo and published earlier this year, revealed about half of the Australian transport industry has no drivers under 30 years of age. Of those that did, younger drivers made up just 18 per cent of driving staff. The report found that the average truck driver is 47 years old. In 2012, the Australian Trucking Association put it at 43.
It’s worse in the US where the average age is 49 and it’s already costing US fleet managers business. In an analysis of the shortage by the American Trucking Association, Robert Ragan, Chief Financial Officer at Melton Truck Lines, told the report that “a significant amount of freight is being turned down… We’ve looked at acquisitions because we can’t grow organically.”
And it’s not just a question of driver numbers. As equipment becomes ever more sophisticated, finding the right candidate to operate it is a serious problem in an industry with a reputation for long hours and demanding work. Many in the industry feel there’s a negative, outdated image of drivers, which makes attracting the appropriate skillset challenging.
Technology that allows businesses to carry more freight more efficiently will go some way to tackling the issue. There’s also potential relief in the move to driverless vehicles, but the reality is that fully-autonomous driving is at least a decade or two down the track. In the meantime, the market for recruits is highly competitive and your best bet is to make your workplace more attractive. Here’s how:
1. Put Their Safety First
Everyone in the supply chain, not just the driver, is held accountable for breaches of legislation under Chain of Responsibility law, so fatigue management is already front of mind. Making sure that everyone in your organisation is aware of their obligations demonstrates you value driver safety as much as customer demands, as does using safety analytics to identify any issues. There’s also a good case for making compliance as easy as possible. For instance, an Electronic Work Diary (EWD) takes the calculations out of the process. If a new job comes in while the driver is on a run, the scheduler and driver have real-time information on their actual work and rest periods, instead of relying on an out-of-date roster to assign work.
2. Promote Better Health
Between the long sedentary hours, stress, sleep disruption caused by shift work and the dubious quality of roadhouse menus, it’s difficult to manage driver wellbeing. This takes its toll on the longevity of a driver’s career, with a US study by HireRight finding that 21 per cent of drivers leaving the industry cite health issues. As a fleet operator, you can introduce programs to help drivers take better care of their health and make helpful information accessible through in-cabin devices. As GPS fleet management software become more sophisticated, it won’t be long until it can be used to show drivers which truck stop is the healthiest nearby pick for their meal break. It’s not just physical health either. A 2014 study by PwC found that 23 per cent of workers in the transport industry had a mental health condition in the previous year.
3. Automate Where Possible
Increased regulatory demands may be motivated by safety improvements, but compliance and reporting can feel like yet more work for drivers. EWDs automatically calculate and send information back to base, but that’s just one of many aspects of the job that can be automated. Digital pre-trip checklists simplify the process and ensure information is directed where it’s needed, such as letting the maintenance department know that a part needs to be ordered. Similarly, a GPS fleet management system spares the driver the interruption of updating the operator about where they are and what’s happening. Soon, we’ll go further than that, as better tools help the driver make good decisions in the cabin. Route adherence tools, which incorporate regulatory road networks or your own specific network information, provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation against these networks and provide real time off route alerting. This spares them the chore of incorporating reams of information into manual route planning, as well as improving safety and efficiency.
4. Provide Adequate Training
Between evolving legislation and increasingly smart vehicles, it’s easy for drivers to feel overwhelmed by the demands of their job. Making sure they’re comfortable will go a long way to improving job satisfaction. New technology might create the impression it’s being used for driver surveillance, so it’s important to demonstrate how it makes their job easier and safer. Investing in training shows that you’re not willing to let your workers wear the cost of keeping qualifications current. You also need to provide a progression path, so you can make driving more attractive by turning it from a job into a career.
5. Cater for Diversity
The trucking industry might be moving away from the blue-singlet wearing image of the past, but it’s still a male-dominated field. Only 5 per cent of drivers are women. There are many reasons to address this issue, but broadening the pool for drivers is an obvious one. Employers have an important role to play not just in their hiring practices, but in little things like ensuring the ergonomics of new vehicles, including seat position and pedals, can be comfortably operated by drivers of all shapes and sizes.
Once you factor in advertising, training and lost productivity, attracting and hiring new drivers can be a costly exercise at the best of times. With a dwindling supply, it’s important to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep good talent.